By on June 18, 2012

First in a series by car salesman Matthew Guy.

Trying to eke out a living in your early 20s is rarely an easy task. Compounded with fresh debt and a lack of solid work experience, I decided to parlay my knowledge of cars into making money, taking a job selling cars. It was intended to be a gap job –turned out I liked it and, more importantly, I was good at it. Some customers stick out in your mind. The 1000 watt bombshell with fabulous frontage to whom I sold a convertible. A raven haired beauty who was equally as sharp a negotiator as she was a testament to the female form. Too late in the game, I realized that dating customers was an extremely poor idea – especially if Check Engine lights and alternator problems were frequent. One red haired temptress refused to tell anyone how we met, lest people think she paid me to be her boyfriend through the commission. At 23 years old, I didn’t really care.

Not all notable customers were of the unfair sex. This guy, I chased for over a month. He was waffling between another car from me and a Subaru from across town. The industry is small, I knew the Subaru folks outside of work. On this particular customer, we agreed that whoever made the sale would get steak and the loser would get beans. As far as I was concerned, it was over before it began. They would dine on beans, I decided.

The Subaru boys were making it tough, pointing out to the customer that my new car was not significantly different than the 8 year old example he was trading, it was FWD vs their AWD, and so forth. I countered with tales of piston slap and a higher MSRP after rebates. It’s predictable who won; I wouldn’t be telling this story if I didn’t end up eating ribeye. But that steak came at a price that was dear. Once he had signed on the line that is dotted, I took his trade and parked it in the back, next to a clapped out Lumina and a Caravan that was leaking all its fluids.

Within an hour I was paged to my office for a phone call. “Hi. This is [customer]. I want to return my car.” Resisting the urge to groan out loud I mentally dug into every sales lesson I ever attended. I asked him what he most liked about the car. I asked him why he kept his current car for so long. I talked about buyer’s remorse.

It didn’t matter. “I’ll be there in about 20 minutes.” Damn. “OK.” I said, using a tone generally reserved for heart attack patients. So I rushed over to the office and explained what’s going on. Not without reason, the manager’s first question was “Where’s his trade?” “Out back, with the rest of the ones we took in today.” It dawned on me now if we explained that the trade was already sold to a wholesaler, it would muddy the waters enough that he probably would go away. Besides, it’s not like we had a return policy anyway.

Usain Bolt in the 100m did not move as quickly as I did. The body shop manager quickly saw what was up and opened the doors, first to the garage, then to the paint booth some 50ft inside. Comfortably ensconced by DuPont and Sherwin-Williams, the traded car had effectively vanished from the face of the earth.

The customer showed up in a cloud of dust and boiling brake fluid. It’s safe to say he did his best Andretti impersonation on the way to the dealership. We had a sit down. It turned out that Subaru called him on his mobile shortly after he left our lot and talked him into making the call back to us. Fair enough; I probably would have done the same thing. That customer returned thrice in seven years, buying a car each time, Check Engine lights be damned. God only knows how many referrals he sent. And that steak? Knowing that I beat the competition not only in the initial sale but also in their attempt to turn the tables made it taste that much better.

Matthew Guy buys and sell cars,  he tweets as Matthew the Car Guy (@matthewkguy) and writes for the British website 

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45 Comments on “The Car Salesmanuscripts: The Car That Got Away...”

  • avatar

    Reasons 1 and 2 why people don’t like car dealers.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, my thoughts exactly..

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what I was thinking. There’s a reason that car salesmen get a bad rap, and this pretty much explains it.

    • 0 avatar

      I concur.

      I know TTAC is about Truth and Cars, and perhaps this is a ‘true’ representation of the car industry but I certainly don’t want to have this guy as a recurring writer. I prefer to not start my day with the taste of bile in my mouth.

      • 0 avatar

        “The Truth? You can’t handle the Truth!”

        If this article is a little much to go with your morning coffee the internet is full of pictures of kittens, puppies, and cute babies. Elderly women love them.

        Stories like this are what makes TTAC interesting. Real stories about what really happens in the auto business from people who have been there, done that. Anybody can put together written HJ about the Porsche 911, or another Mustang vs. Camaro shootout. Interesting writing about what actually takes place in the business makes articles like Matthew’s worth seeking out.

        Some of it is not pretty; the auto business if not made up of fairy princesses. But it is interesting, and I hope to see more of it.

        Then again, my favorite movie is Glengarry Glen Ross, so my perspective may be a little skewed.

  • avatar

    So you lied to (and cheated) someone who is now foolish enough to be a repeat customer? And you’re proud enough about it to post in public? Given that he was dumb enough to believe that you’d sold and transferred his trade- in in less than an hour, I wonder if he might have been functionally retarded. Good job.

    Baruth at least always conveys a sense of shame over most of the things he did to sell cars back in the day.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    This article perfectly explains why I detest car salesmen.

  • avatar

    If this is what counts as being “good at it”, then our collective hate of Car Salesmen, is entirely justified.

    Buying service FTW.

  • avatar

    Ha ha ha! Pretty funny.

    Thing is, what goes around, comes around…for a car salesman AND for a what seems like a conniving customer. As far as I’m concerned, both lose in the end, no matter how delusional either party wants to be.

    For a customer playing both sides of the fence, it can be dangerous and can come back and bite you quite hard.

    While it’s perfectly OK to shop around and accepting the lowest bid to get the best deal possible, once you’ve made up your mind and signed your name, live with and enjoy your new ride and don’t look back.

    • 0 avatar

      Most states give a customer three days to a week to get out of a sales deal, whether its a vacuum cleaner sold door-to-door or an automobile.

      So, if you are HONEST, it doesn’t pay to try to use emotional arguments on a customer. If the customer reads the contract, you are screwed big time, and may be in violation of the law.

      Congratulations on screwing a customer (and avoiding jail).

  • avatar

    This disgusts me. And I’ve been the sales manager at a dealership for 4 years now. This is why people hate us. I guess I should be thankful though. We’ve been sucessful because all of my competition operates with the same “screw ’em” mentality. It’s pretty easy to be well liked and trusted in this business if you treat people the way you want to be treated.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll tell you, probably the only *good* car dealership experience I’ve ever had was in a local Lexus dealership a few weeks back.

      Maybe it’s the area I live in, or maybe it’s that I just know enough about cars, but there was something refreshing about going into a dealership where the guy I talked to knew more about the car he was selling than I did, the sales manager stopped in to thank us for test driving, and nobody pressured us into doing something we didn’t want to do.

      Now the Buick dealership down the road… (owned by the same folks, mind you)

      It is a shame, but I think dealers look at people who are buying a car spending X dollars and prioritize them over myself looking to only spend $34k on a Buick instead of the $45k of the guy who came in after me.

      Glad to hear, from your perspective, some regret for your fellow salesmen. I’d like to think your attitude is rare, but the longer I’m alive the more I’m inclined to believe it is. :(

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe I’m the odd man out, but I’ve had very few ‘bad’ experiences at dealerships. I’ve always attributed it to the sense that such stories were from some bygone era, and the world has since matured, but obviously it hasn’t.

      • 0 avatar

        We just purchased a used Lexus at Larry Miller here in Salt Lake and it was the easiest and best experience we’ve ever had.

        Did we get a screaming deal? No, but that wasn’t the goal as we both know that car dealerships need to make money to pay overhead, sales and have a bit left over. That’s just practical business knowledge.

        We wanted a fair price for our trade-in and a fair price for the Lexus. We did our research on both and knew where the numbers should be. The longest part of the whole experience was the trade evaluation. There were no games, pressure or any of that. We spent a few minutes talking numbers and it was done. Fair for them and fair for us.

        After purchasing many cars at many “highline” dealers, I will say that Lexus is truly a cut above. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve encountered sleaze at MB, BMW, Jaguar and Land Rover. (We were actually going to buy from the BMW dealer, but 5 minutes into sitting down to talk numbers, I felt like I needed a shower. We just walked out. Simple as that.)

        If you don’t like what’s going on, don’t do business with them. Simple as that. With the internet today, you can literally find EXACTLY what you want. We had a dealership in St. Louis willing to order or find exactly what we wanted and have it shipped out here.

  • avatar

    I should explain that I sold cars for a period of time 20 years ago, for similar reasons as the OP. Everyone gets all sanctimonious when this guy admits to how sales organizations work, but only one person (Zackman) even remotely noticed that the customer was as big a douchebag as the salesperson is assumed to be.

    There’s lots of reprehensible things car sales people have done, and I am in no way defending them. However, flip the situation. It’s taken weeks and finally you’ve just sold a durable good with a long term loan attached to it, the client wants to return it (for no apparent reason) and unwind the legal binding contract he just signed.

    Who’s the a**hole, now?

    Two sides to every story, folks…

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      Man’s got a point…

    • 0 avatar

      If the OP had finished his story with “The customer came back and wanted to welch on the deal, so I told him to pound sand because we had a contract,” I don’t think any of us would care. After all, a deal is a deal.

      The problem is that rather than facing the customer head on, the OP chose to hide his car, with the assistance of other employees at the dealership, and then lie about it. Then he brags about it and how the customer came back for more three additional times. That’s what’s reprehensible.

    • 0 avatar

      “noticed that the customer was as big a douchebag as the salesperson is assumed to be.”

      Mathews full on douchebag was showing long before he hid the car to lock in the customer. What purpose exactly does bringing up the hot chicks he met/dated on the job, serve, than self aggrandizement.

      Then there was the contest to land the indecisive customer, revealing that obviously he would win, because he wouldn’t tell us the story if he didn’t win. Again more evidence of self aggrandizing douchebag. During the contest it sounds like he resorted to slandering the oppositions product.

      As far as the customer being as big a douchebag.
      1: I don’t see it. More indecisive with cold feet.
      2: We only have the word of self aggrandizing douchebag salesman.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. Signing off on a purchase is a binding contract. There’s no “cooling off, whoops!” period. He took delivery of the car, it was title, he put miles on it, it’s now a used car. The dealership is supposed to suck up a few grand in losses because he changed his mind AFTER signing a binding contract? That’s not how it works.

  • avatar

    Whether or not this is detestable, I think Matthew’s story is very valuable knowledge, and I hope he continues posting. It’s important to know what really goes on in the dealership and what people are thinking. I’d rather read the reality than hide under a rock.

  • avatar

    So the car buyer was a flaky indecisive idiot, and the car salesman resorted to trickery to keep the sale. It sounds like they deserve each other.

    There is a lot of hate for car salesmen, but the customers generally get the sales treatment they deserve. Most good salespeople graduate from some form of retail sales (including car sales) that involves dealing with the general public to commercial sales that involves selling to business/professional types. Matthew’s story shows you why.

    Selling to the general public means dealing with the uninformed, the stupid, the bullies, the loudmouths, the know-it-all, the liars, the mentally unstable, the deadbeat, all often with their children or extended family in tow to multiply the misery. If you are in sales and deal with the general public for any length of time you WILL become very cynical; it is not healthy. If you don’t develop some armor of cynicism you will get crushed/lied to/ripped off so often you will either quit out of despair or be fired. There is a reason that retired librarians and flower children don’t sell cars/appliances/homes.

    Moving into professional/commercial sales weeds out most of the real oddballs. For a business to survive for more than a couple of years the owners/managers have to have their heads on somewhat straight and make somewhat rational decisions. Much more so than the general public.

    The car buying process is not hard if you (the customer) approach it like a professional. Knowing what you want and/or need, knowing what your budget is, and being calm, cool and collected makes the process fairly simple and straightforward. If you don’t act like a professional you won’t get treated like one.

    The customer in Matthew Guy’s story bounced back and forth like a ping pong ball; you can’t be surprised that he finally got paddled. Interestingly, in the end he seemed to enjoy the abuse and brought his friends back to share in the experience!

    • 0 avatar

      (slow clap) I’ve a dear friend in the business and from what I’ve divined from him over the years, what you say is true. He’s remarkably successful at what he does, but there’s a psychic price to be paid.

    • 0 avatar

      the freaks, the wonders, the curiosities, the strange, the weird, the odd, the bizarre, the macabre, and the unusual… a panorama of beauty and splendor!
      as it unfolds before your eyes
      and dazzles the imagination…

  • avatar

    HAHAHA car dealers are such total scumbags! Truly, if you have no morals or ethics and would screw your own mother for a shiny nickel, theres a job waiting for you at the nearest stealership.

  • avatar

    Toad is 100% spot on the money, excellant post!

  • avatar

    Sounds like the Clark Griswald treatment.

  • avatar

    The thread doesn’t make me want to love car salesmen, but I’m not surprised either. Commissioned staff are about making sales, not order taking. Never underestimate what the power of incentives will do to a person’s behavior…. in terms of mental framing, i think I can guess what was going through OP’s head at the time… it was not an ethical situation, but a problem to solve… of how to out-maneuver the competition and how to keep a customer from ditching a deal. It sounds hairy in retrospect (and it is) but I’m sure that it wasn’t framed as an ethical problem in the heat of the moment. That’s the frailty of the human condition.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    They repainted a car so the customer would not know it was still onsite! Does anybody else smell a fishy aroma?

    I have bought new and used cars in several jurisdictions. Sales are always final. Regardless, why wouldn’t the the dealer simply ask the wholesaler to pick up the car immediately, or stash it offsite until he could pick it up?

  • avatar

    TTAC is that you probably could have kept the man as a customer without all the trickery, and slept better at night. It’s not worth it. Beans with a clear conscience beats guilty steak any time.

    As a great man once said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?”.

  • avatar

    I work as a salesman in a highline store. We sell ethically because it makes good business sense to do so. We want to create a long-term relationship with the customer, his family, his co-workers and his friends. Do we want to make some money..of course. We are not a non-profit. But when you sell $70K automobiles for a mini commission do you turn away a customer who sees the value in buying your product, at your store for a reasonable price? Thought not. We put our cell phone numbers on our business cards and are always available to our customers. There is a price for that.

  • avatar
    Volts On Fire

    Ethics are overrated, and lamenting about the lack of said ethics is usually a telltale sign of the weak. Don’t want to be used by others? Become stronger – physically, mentally, financially.

    Otherwise, sit and spin.

  • avatar

    Many moons ago when I sold cars the owner/manager would constantly say “Buyers are liars”

    That was usually after were told to take off the Monronies forcing buyers to ask for the price. When they did ask abour the price we then then asked for a deposit.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    You think they would have body, not hand, sanitizer at any car dealership. WTF are Monronies? A car salesperson is not your friend, buddy, potential lover, etc. They are a salesperson,period. Your goal is to buy your car at the lowest price and get the highest price on your trade-in. A car salespersons job is just the opposite.

    The horror, the horror. I’ve walked over 200 bucks, yes 200 bucks. Your sales manager must be busier than Medusa’s hairdresser because you need to talk to him so many times. I threatened to call the cops because a dealer wouldn’t give my keys back after having my car for over an hour and a half. That deposit? Straight into the salespersons pocket. A pox on the chain smoking lot of em.

    A lame attempt at Baruthian prose with a complete lack of style

  • avatar

    In recruitment of new contributors, TTAC has jumped the shark.
    One more and the bookmark to TTAC gets deleted.
    I already know extremely well the crap that goes on. I don’t want one of those scumbags
    rubbing my nose in it by bragging about it and laughing at us to our faces.

  • avatar

    I once got a car from a Fred Brown dealership in Texas. It was a great experience all around. Found out I had joined a club of people who would see the sticker and trade stories on how great Fred Brown was.

    Moved to Houston, no Fred Brown, went to another dealer for service. What a nightmare. Ended up talking to their Quality expert. After several conversations and trips to get the whole thing resolved I finally asked why they weren’t more like Fred Brown.

    “Fred Brown? You can’t compare us to Fred Brown! That’s where they send us all to learn about quality and service.”

    I just stared at the fat idiot. He walked away ashamed of himself to check on my once again not ready when promised car. You can teach people all the right stuff, but you can’t make them learn it.

  • avatar

    I bought 4 cars over the years from a SAAB Dealer near Cincinnati, even after we lived in Michigan and Georgia. Gloom and despair whenever I had to go for service to another SAAB location (Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan). I often thought that if SAAB kept on their dealers to ensure a better experience (like Infiniti and some others seem to do IMHO) they would’ve sold more cars over the years.

    So far as this contributor is concerned it is always nice to hear about the back office stuff that goes on at dealerships. Makes me feel like I could be better prepared in the future.

  • avatar

    Wow, lots of whining and gnashing of teeth in these comments. I wonder how many of you high-horse riders would respond if YOU sold someone a car and then they wanted to bring it back later b/c they’d changed their mind? The buck has to stop somewhere.

  • avatar

    I once read an article that stated that attorneys and car salesmen rank just below the likes of murderes, rapists and child molesters with the general public.

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